GREENBRIER — It’s hard to know what to give a 99-year-old for her birthday, but Ruth Wrightam of Greenbrier got her wish: a ride on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Wrightam, whose birthday was Aug. 11, celebrated the occasion Aug. 12 with a party and a motorcycle ride with family friend Randy Higgins.
“He’s got a really beautiful motorcycle,” Wrightam said. “It has a padded seat in the back, like you’re sitting in the living room. I never rode on one that fancy.”
But she has ridden a motorcycle many times. Wrightam’s
late husband, Roy D. “Buck” Wrightam, gained some notoriety as a bugler in the Army infantry during World War II and played in the Air Force Comets Band. It has been reported, and was listed in his obituary, that he was the model for Hughie Prince and Don Raye’s song “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
Wrightam’s husband loved riding motorcycles and owned one.
“I always did ride with him wherever he was going. We had our own private bike; we’d just go everywhere,” she said.
Wrightam, a native of Illinois, and her husband were longtime Florida residents.
“We went one time from Florida clear up to Illinois to see an aunt of mine, and she said, ‘Ruth, you know that’s not how ladies are supposed to act.’ I thought that was so funny. I said, ‘I’m not doing anything wrong.’ Every time we’d stop, we’d tell everybody about the Lord,” Wrightam said.
She said that when her husband died in 1995, he still had a motorcycle.
“My grandson in Florida is still driving my husband’s motorcycle. It’s getting old,” she said.
After Wrightam’s husband left the Army, they spent 10 years traveling the South with the Croft Evangelistic Team. Wrightam said her husband played his trumpet, and she played the piano, which she still does.
Buck Wrightam owned an airport in Florida and then an auto-repair shop, and after he retired, he was a motorcycle deputy sheriff in Lake County, Florida. She was also a deputy sheriff, but she rode in a car.
She said they’d drive through orange groves in the evenings “to make sure nobody was stealing oranges.”
Wrightam eventually moved from Florida to Heber Springs to live with her son, George Wrightam. When he died in March, she moved to Greenbrier to live with her grandson, Dale Wrightam, and his wife, Sue.
Her piano moved with her.
“They moved it out there, and it won’t go too good. I told somebody the other night I want that fixed; they’d better hurry up,” she said, laughing.
Higgins said he and his wife, Verna, go to church with the Wrightams, and Verna and Sue Wrightam are friends. Randy Higgins found out about Ruth’s wish to take a motorcycle ride and agreed to bring his Harley and an extra helmet to the party, which he and his wife planned to attend anyway.
Higgins said other guests at the party helped Wrightam stand up from her wheelchair and get on the big bike.
“She’s a little thing,” Higgins said.
She posed for photos and commented on how comfortable the motorcycle was. “I said, ‘If you don’t want to go, we’re not going to go,’” Higgins said.
But he said after a couple of minutes, she tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Let’s go.”
“I said, ‘Now, if I scare you, let me know.’ She asked, ‘Is it OK if I hang onto you?’ I don’t think I got over 35 mph,” he said.
Higgins said he told her he was going to make a U-turn in the Bono Baptist Church parking lot. “I said, ‘Just lean with me.’ She said, ‘This is not my first time,’” he recalled with a laugh.
When they arrived back at the house, “she did the parade wave. They were clapping for her,” he said.
“I enjoyed it,” Wrightam said.
She’s not sure what she’ll do for her 100th birthday.
Wrightam said she never thought about living this long.
“I still can’t believe I’m that old. The best thing to do is just not worry about it, take it one day at a time, sweet Jesus. That’s the only way to go.”
And ride a motorcycle once in a while to stay young at heart.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or[email protected].